The International Centre for Migration Policy and Development (ICMPD) held the 8th edition of the Vienna Migration Conference from 10-11 October 2023. Migration academics, practitioners, civil society representatives, and policymakers came together for high-level discussions on contemporary migration issues and trends that are of importance to EU member states and partner countries. The two-day hybrid event included discussions on migration frameworks, migration and climate change, and key migration trends and policy developments that will be important in 2024.
Return and reintegration was a key theme of the conference. Return is arguably one of the more contentious issues in migration debates, as migration and development policymakers, practitioners, and researchers have differing opinions on how to encourage cooperation from partner countries to accept returned nationals from Europe. While some speakers proposed solutions such as supporting programmes in countries of origin and transit that assist with return, other speakers took a firmer stance, such as Dimitris Kairidis, Minister of Migration and Asylum in Greece. He stated that sanctions should be considered for countries that do not cooperate and agree to take back their nationals, and while discussions on return can be painful, the asylum system cannot work without returns. Other speakers noted that while return is an important issue, it is not always the best starting place for discussions on increasing cooperation between EU member states and partner countries due to its sensitive nature.
Cooperation and partnership were also key themes that emerged from the discussions. Speakers stressed the importance of having internal cooperation between EU member states and external cooperation between EU member states and partner states in the Global South. This was discussed in terms of encouraging adherence to national, regional, and international migration policies and frameworks, but also in supporting skills development schemes in the Global South.
For example, Diederik de Boer, Associate Professor of Sustainable Business Development and Director of the Expert Centre on Emerging Economies at the Maastricht School of Management, shared how his institution is working with vocational training centres in African countries to create programmes where students can spend 3 months at Maastricht to complete part of their training after completing the appropriate level of training in their home countries . The students then go back and use their skills to improve the economies of their countries of origin.
Speakers also stated that cooperation and partnership through investing in ideas and businesses, not solely in skills development, are also needed to support people in the Global South. Speakers noted that there are people in the Global South who already have the skills needed to create business and jobs, but do not have access to the capital needed to make their ideas a reality.
In addition to these themes, speakers and participants discussed recent EU migration frameworks and policies, including the Post-Cotonou Agreement and the Pact on Migration and Asylum. While it was acknowledged that these policies had room for improvement, they were also viewed as steps in the right direction towards creating solutions within the parameters of EU values and commitment to law.
As an organisation that understands the importance of diaspora communities and the role they play in conversations around contemporary migration issues, we continue to advocate for the inclusion of diaspora actors in these important conversations and in decision-making spaces.